Interview: Bobcat Goldthwait & Joel Murray on God Bless America


Anyone who sees Bobcat Goldthwait’s fourth movie, semi-sarcastically called God Bless America, might assume he’s the same angry comedian who would rant and rave about anything back in the ’80s, but he’s actually a fairly pleasant and calm individual who just so happens to have written a movie about a guy who is angry at the world and actually does something about it.

God Bless America stars Joel Murray as Frank, a man down in the dumps, dealing with noisy and irritating neighbors, an insensitive ex-wife and a spoiled brat daughter. When he gets fired from his job and learns that he may be dying, he realizes that he has nothing left to lose and he decides to do something about everything awful in the world, starting with a teen girl he sees on a reality show who he decides to kill. Along the way, he meets high school student Roxy, played by Tara Lynne Barr, who is so excited by the idea of Frank’s form of vigilantism that the two of them go on a cross-country murder spree righting what’s wrong with our country.

Needless to say, it’s a very dark movie but also very funny, even if it sometimes leaving you wondering whether or not you should be laughing. sat down with Bobcat and his long-time friend and star Joel to talk about the movie, and our interview branched off into other topics that the movie touches upon, like the current political situation in our country. (Mind you, I probably laughed more times during this interview than almost any other interview I’ve done in some time.) This is a really funny movie but it’s also kind of scary, because the more you relate to Frank and like him, the more you wonder “What is wrong with me?” especially when you start agreeing with him. What got you going on this one? Was it just a lot of rants you had written that you assembled into a script?
Bobcat Goldthwait:
No, it’s more of a Christmas present for my wife why I wrote the screenplay, so it was more me being a cheap prick. (laughs) When I wrote this was the time when they were having all these town hall meetings and people were just filibusting and shouting over everybody, and then I watched the President get called a liar on the floor of the House. I’m not a big fan of Bush, but I would have been just as disheartened if there was a Senator yelling at Bush. It just seemed like we were no longer civil. All bets are off. Everybody’s just yelling, so that and a “My Super Sweet 16” marathon when I was in London really bummed me out. I think the final straw was… that pig in the movie that comes out and farts at the screen. That’s a real phone ring tone and it was an elephant. An animated elephant comes out and sticks its ass at me, and I took it really personally. (makes a big farting noise) That was the tipping point and it hurt my feelings, and I said to my wife, “Okay, let’s get some guns, we have to start…”

CS: As an actor, I can’t imagine what your reaction must be when you get a script like this.
Joel Murray:
Well, yeah, we worked together on “One Crazy Summer” in ’85 and I had a little part in “Shakes the Clown” and when I recently saw “World’s Greatest Dad” and I knew some people in that, I was like so jealous that I wasn’t in the Bobcat Players. He sent me the script and he had back surgery a while back so I knew he was going to be laid-up for a while, so I brought him dinner and “Mad Men” DVDs from the first three seasons. I see people all the time that didn’t get on board with that early but “I had spinal meningitis” or “I had strep throat but good news is that I caught up on ‘Mad Men.'” So his wife and he was watching them and his wife said, ‘Well Joel might be good for Frank”
Goldthwait: She didn’t even say that. She said, “You should hire Joel as Frank” (laughs). It was a really “Eureka!” moment, like “Yeah, he’d be great.”
Murray: But when he sent me the script, I was like “Yeah, I really like it, Bob. It’s dark and twisted so what do you want me to be, the guy in the office or what?” and he says, “No, Frank, the guy.” F*ck yeah. Not a lot of people offer me leads in movies these days, but who knows?
Goldthwait: I think Joel did an amazing job and it’s great when it’s your friend. The environment on the sets of the movies I make, it’s usually all friends and people that know each other, because no one’s getting rich or making money, so it’s always about, hopefully, that everyone’s on the same page.
Murray: And this really was fun. It was like movie camp. I was the lead in the movie and I was changing in my van. I was moving sandbags to help out. You take a break and there would be older guys teaching younger guys how to wind cable around or latch something onto a stand so it doesn’t pull over. It was just really neat in that way.

CS: How do you approach a character like Frank? There’s obviously a lot of lines and monologues to memorize but was there any changes you had to go through?
My main thing was I was worried about my hair.
Goldthwait: That was our biggest conversation. He called me a few times and he goes, “I have some ideas about my hair.” But if you do watch it…
Murray: I wanted to have really flat hair at the beginning and he started killing people, his hair would get some volume and height. It was kind of a “Free Willy” thing. When Free Willy got better and better, his dorsal fin would go up. The research I did though, it’s hard to act with a gun in your mouth and go to that place, and it was really dark in the beginning and we kind of shot things in order, so I was really happy to get out of that spot.
Goldthwait: I remember that once we started shooting people, the mood really changed and it was a lot more fun.
Murray: Once people started to die, everybody got happier.
Goldthwait: Everybody gets excited. It’s like Halloween or something.

CS: This is kind of a revenge fantasy because it starts out that all these killings are just in Frank’s mind, and then when he actually starts killing people, you really start questioning your own morality and what you might do even more than with real revenge thrillers.
Right, because revenge movies, they make sure that the people they’re killing are…
Murray: Justified
Goldthwait: Yeah, it’s supposed to be justified. They make them less than human.

CS: They make them rapists.
That’s what I was going to say. You watch a gratuitous rape scene and then at the end, they kill those people from that gratuitous rape scene so you got to watch a rape and feel good about killing someone, and I didn’t want that. I wanted what you were saying, like be uncomfortable and question yourself.
Murray: “He’s just killing some boisterous kids in the theater”
Goldthwait: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

CS: That theater scene where they go to town killing the kids talking during the movie must go over huge.
Yeah, especially at festivals. I think at the Toronto Film Festival it just exploded, but “Falling Down” does that. When he finally gets around to killing people, the guy happens to be a Nazi, and I don’t want to manipulate people. I’m not pro-murder and pro-killing, so I think it should be awkward and uncomfortable and weird even in something as goofy as this movie, which to me, the last three movies, hopefully they’re about something but I keep everything light so they’re in my mind like fables.

CS: You worked with Darko Entertainment (the production company) a couple of times now so when you presented this to them as your next movie, were they like, “Okay just do what you want”?
No, it took a little while to convince the boys, but once they get on board, they really are 100% supportive. It’s really nice to have people like that. The movies I make… I’ve read a lot of screenplays and I’d rather not make a movie than compromise what I initially write. Because I’ve compromised my whole career so… (laughs)

CS: What about Tara Lynne? Maybe you can talk about finding her and how you got her for the role and you can talk about working with her, Joel?
Well, she auditioned and what was funny about her was that I feel like what she brought that worked for me was her enthusiasm and her wholesomeness to this crazy role. It wasn’t like a tortured goth kid or a Lolita that ends up being this very wholesome kid but wants to kill people. (laughs)
Murray: In the process of things, I said I’d do it and Bob said he’d have me, and he was like, “And yeah, when we get around to it, we’ll audition these girls and I’ll have you read with the girls and you’ll help in that process.” I never really did read the girls and I was kind of nervous about, “Well, I would like to have seen the choices.” When we got Tara, she was just spectacular. She was really great. I did a movie called “Hatchet” that had some girls that just talked non-stop the whole time, and it drove me insane. Even after the director would say “Action” they still had to talk a litte bit more and then they’d simmer down, but Tara shut up, did her work. When you say “action” she came out with a ton of energy that’d be the contrast to my lack of energy and that was just great to watch. It was fun not knowing her and not having done with her, just to see “Well, let’s see what kind of game she’s playing here.” It was an interesting, exciting, kind of goofy… we would talk about the “Sterile Cuckoo” thing, kind of like Liza Minelli in “Sterile Cuckoo,” just goofy, off the frickin’ wall, and it was a nice contrast.

CS: You mentioned that you shot in order so did she literally show up halfway through shooting?
Well, no, but the bulk of the stuff was in order. They had some scenes before they met that were shot, but it wasn’t really bonding scenes–I didn’t do any of those–it was really small scenes.

CS: You obviously have the “Bonnie and Clyde” comparisons to their relationship but you never consummate that and keep it platonic due to their age difference, and that keeps it kind of wholesome even if they’re killing so many people.
It’s the wholesome spree killer movie. Yeah, because Frank’s clinging to all these different things that he wishes the world would be, and that’s why he’s out of sync, because that’s not the world, and then I like the idea that Frank gets the family he’s missing through this kid, and then he realizes is that he’s flawed, that he is actually thinking about running off and living happily ever…
Murray: In France.
Goldthwait: Yeah, so that’s when all the morality of the movie really falls away, when Frank gets corrupted.

CS: As the movie begins, you have references to things like Michael Jackson, which would make the movie seem like a period piece, but then there are other things that are far more current. Did you see this as a period piece?
This is the first movie I did which was supposed to take place now. I usually try to make them where you’re not sure what year it is, so that’s why sometimes people go, “Well that’s some low-hanging fruit that he’s attacking.” I had to use people that… if I had written a Charlie Sheen reference in the movie–which during the movie, he was having his manic breakdown–it would be really dated now. I mean, already, it would be like, “What? That’s so played out.” That’s why we have these people that would be iconic…
Murray: Like Lindsay Lohan… (laughs)
Goldthwait: Well, Lindsay Lohan, I really was going, “That poor kid is never going to get her sh*t together.” She’ll die and they’ll pick her apart, you know? She’s never going to get a break.

CS: I’m curious, have either of you run into anyone who is mentioned in the movie, like Diablo Cody, and did they generally have a sense of humor about it? I have to imagine Diablo would have seen this.
Yeah, she wrote a blog where she was saddened by it, but much like Fox News, she hadn’t seen it but commented on it.

CS: She heard about it from someone else.
Yeah, yeah, but she should be pissed, but you know what? She’s annoying. (laughs)

CS: Aww… I’ve met her and she’s a really nice person.
She has to be. (Laughs) No, the reason I started on Diablo Cody was that my daughter is really funny and whenever she says anything funny, people go, “You’re like Juno” and she’s like, “Dad, I want to stab them right in the f*cking throat when they say that.” But on the other side of things, if I was sitting there watching a movie and suddenly they said, “F*ck Bobcat Goldthwait, the guy was in Police Academy and he’s trying to tell me how to live my life? What am I supposed to star in ‘Hot to Trot,’ that has-been? Where’s your hair?” I would probably laugh, honestly. I wouldn’t think that it was all about me. I mean, it’s about a young girl who gets compared to Juno, so she’s going to have a lot of anger towards that. I mean, I don’t want to try to make a very violent movie about kindness and then a couple of times I step over the line and I’m not kind. Everybody at one point or another in this movie is eventually called out, including myself a couple of times. I’ve been known to high-five and I have a soft spot for Green Day. (laughs)

CS: As an actor, reading a script like this, is there any time you feel like, “Okay, maybe my director’s gone over the line a bit?” (Bobcat starts laughing very loudly at that question.) I mean, you’re playing a part but at any point, do you think, “Okay, that’s a bit too much?”
Well, that’s the beauty of being an unemployed actor, you’ve always got that as an excuse. “Bob is the writer/director. These are his thoughts.”
Goldthwait: I’d still like to work with Woody Allen.
Murray: I wouldn’t mind working with Woody Allen, but yeah, I agree with it, it turns out, with about 99 percent. I had some trepidation about just maybe possibly people coming after me because of it. (Bobcat laughs even louder at this.) But still, in my head, I think, “Well, I’ll just tell them when they come in my room that it was all Bob’s stuff,” and I shot everybody left-handed. If I really meant to kill them, I’d shoot ’em right-handed. That’s not me. I was just going to work.
Goldthwait: The other thing is that unfortunately, crazy people usually go after innocents. The other movies I’ve made people would get really heated and argue with me at my movies–“Sleeping Dogs Lie,” “World’s Greatest Dad”–during the Q ‘n’ A. This movie they don’t, and I think it’s because they’re sitting there either thinking I really am violent, which I’m not, or this one clearly stresses a little bit that I really don’t give a f*ck. (laughs)

CS: It’s funny you should say that, but when people have that reaction where they don’t get mad about something, do you feel that’s a failure in some ways?
Oh, that’s funny. No, no, no, I’m always just going, “Oh, here it comes. Someone is going to get mad.” Other than some conspiracy kooks, I haven’t had too many strange reactions.

CS: Like I said before, I liked this movie a lot but it’s one of those things where you’re not sure if you can really say you like it.
Well, that’s hopefully what it’s supposed to be. That’s hopefully how it plays for people, ’cause the whole idea when all is said and done is “What is this movie about? What do I really want to say at the very end of it?” and what I really want to say is, “Where are we going?” That’s the big one, and the other one is asking myself and the audience, “Am I going to be a part of the problem or am I going to be the solution?”

CS: It feels like this movie is coming out really at a perfect time because it feels like right now people are getting mad and trying to something about it, and “Occupy Wall Street” is a perfect example.
Yeah, but most of the people… is this whole election going to boil down to canine abuse? Nobody seems to be interested in really talking about anything. Like Frank says, “Shock in common has awakened the truth.” People don’t really want to talk about ideas, they don’t want real changes or solutions. Both sides of the political party just want to be sensational. There’s no discussion anymore. I think the internet’s made it so that people just talk to people who share their similar viewpoints and then go attack the other side in comments.

B>CS: So are you a fan of the internet and you feel that’s a good forum or do you think that’s a big part of the overall problem?
Goldthwait: I think it really helps the isolation process. I don’t think it’s bringing people together. It’s making it where…
Murray: Yeah, it doesn’t add to the lively art of conversation, that’s for sure, when all you do is observe, and you can be anonymous when you do say something and you don’t have to worry about someone punching you in the throat.
Goldthwait: I was sitting in an airport and I was looking at guys my age and older and everybody’s on their iPhone, and I did that, too, but nobody’s in the moment. Not that the airport’s the most exciting or sexiest place in the world but nobody’s there. Everybody wants to be somewhere else, talking to someone else, and everyone’s shutting themselves down. Again, that was one of those times where I said, “You know what?” and I ended up starting up a conversation with a woman who was about my age and it was really fascinating. It was awesome, it was real fun. I didn’t even do it on purpose. Because I wasn’t plugged in and she wasn’t plugged in, we actually had a conversation. That’s the thing. I think people think I’m asking that every conversation be some heavy social political conversation, and I’m not. Talk to me about you, don’t tweet to me about you. Talk to me about your day, your thoughts, what’s funny, have a conversation. Whenever you’re only posting and commenting and using social networks, you’re saying, “This is my particular view, this is who I am,” and you’re not really have an exchange of ideas.

CS: Where do you guys go from here? It seems like a role like this would be hard to follow, since it’s such a distinctive experience.
Yeah, it’s been a fun ride, but it hasn’t gotten out there, so I’ve just been spending all my time kind of promoting it and hoping it does well and that it takes my career someplace. But I’m a journeyman actor and I’ll be going back to auditions on Wednesday.
Goldthwait: I’d very happy if other folks use Joel as a lead. I feel that there’s no reason he doesn’t have the career of someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman or Bill Macy or someone like that.
Murray: Word to that, man. That’d be nice.

CS: Well, it took them a long time to get to that point.
Yeah, and I think that Joel’s grown into who he is because when we were young men, he was a middle-aged guy.

CS: What about doing something more with the character of Frank? I may have asked you before about pitching stuff for TV shows, so have you thought about that for this? Seems like it would be perfect for HBO.
As a series? If I ever got to do television, I would be interested in doing different kinds of characters and stories, and television doesn’t lend itself to that. You have to create a world and then live in that world for a few years.

CS: Unless you do something like “The Ben Stiller Show” which is very rare.
“Bobcat Goldthwait’s Night Gallery”
Goldthwait: Yeah, that would be more interesting to me, but it’s funny. When you deal with that big monster of television development or studio film development, nothing gets done, and when it does, it gets done at a snail’s pace. Where I can go out and make a really tiny movie with Darko, really fast, and then it’s out the next year.

CS: Right, TV is the opposite of the way you’ve been working and getting stuff done.
Yeah, ’cause right now I don’t go through the notes process, and really, if I had any kind of career thing, I’d love to get to the place where I’m churning out the movies faster, like one every year would be great.

CS: Still, getting this movie just two years after “World’s Greatest Dad” with the surgery and everything else you’ve done is pretty impressive.
When did we start production on this?
Goldthwait: I was thinking it was this time last year.
Murray: I was going to say that this time last year you sent me the script even.

CS: Wow, that’s really fast, especially since it was ready for Toronto, which was in early September.
Yeah, that was really funny that we decided to make that the deadline. I actually did think that the Midnight Movie in Toronto was the home for this. I had gone there the year before, and I was just sitting there watching movies. I would go to the midnight movie like three nights in a row, and I thought, “I have a movie that I think would play well here.”

CS: I’m bummed that I never saw it in that venue.
To me, it was like going to see a band. People were so into the movies and it was fun.

CS: So are you actually working on something else right now to direct?
Yeah, I’ve written a whole bunch of new screenplays, so I’m just trying to get one of them going. It’ll be anything from a musical to a zombie fetus movie, I’m just trying to decide.

CS: Those are two separate movies? Not a zombie fetus musical?
(laughs) It’ll be like Michigan J. Frog.
Murray: I’ve been trying to get a couple television shows sold with me attached to them, but it is amazingly slow. The people who are supposed to be representing you don’t do anything. It’s like, “My God!”
Goldthwait: Also, after the first time I went to Sundance, I had meetings with a million production companies and all those movies that those people were pitching me saying, “We’d love to attach you,” not one of them has been made yet. And I’ve made two movies since then, and I’m so glad that I didn’t tie myself down to those movies, ’cause they don’t get made.

God Bless America has been playing on VOD for the last month, but you’ll have a chance to see it in theaters starting Friday, May 11. You can find out which select cities where it’s playing on the Magnolia site.